RIVER RESCUE: Bravery award for hero of Mere rescue

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FIREFIGHTER Christopher Kelly was on a routine exercise with Ted Meanwell on the notorious stretch of the River Nene's Orton Mere, in Peterborough.

FIREFIGHTER Christopher Kelly was on a routine exercise with Ted Meanwell on the notorious stretch of the River Nene's Orton Mere, in Peterborough.Suddenly Mr Meanwell and another fireman were thrown from their dinghy and swept along in the river's raging current.

As his colleague scrambled for the bank, a terrified Mr Meanwell became trapped by the strong current in the outfall of the weir.

Rescue efforts failed to haul Mr Meanwell to safety.

Brave Mr Kelly tied a line to himself and clambered on to the boat in a bid to save his friend.

He, too, was hurled from the boat, but managed to swim towards Mr Meanwell, who had stopped breathing.

Bracing himself against the pull of the water, Mr Kelly amazingly managed to hold his pal above the water and give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The rescue mission in the cold river lasted 15 minutes, with both men finally being pulled to safety after they drifted downstream, away from the weir. Mr Meanwell (30 at the time), spent several days in intensive care at Peterborough District Hospital before making a recovery.

Now Mr Kelly, a firefighter based at Dogsthorpe fire station, has been hailed a hero by the Royal Humane Society for his brave actions on March 16, 2004, and will receive an award for bravery and saving a life.

A modest Mr Kelly (42) today said that his heroic efforts were all in the line of duty.

He said: "We could see Ted in the water not moving. We knew that if we hung around talking about it there was no way he would survive. Someone had to go in and get him out.

"I didn't really think about it, I just said that it would be me. Your instinct just takes over.

"As a firefighter you do it whether it happens to a member of the public or to a colleague. It's all part of the job.

"I didn't think about the dangers at the time.

"You don't have time to be frightened. You just get on with it."

Mr Kelly, who has been a fireman for more than 14 years said he was surprised to hear about the awards.

He said: "You never do anything in this job because you think you're going to be rewarded for it, you just get on with your job.

"Incidents like this do happen occasionally. We're very well trained and well prepared. All of that training just kicks in in these situations."

Royal Humane Society secretary Major General David Pennefather said Mr Kelly's actions almost certainly saved Mr Meanwell's life.

"It was a truly astonishing rescue, and he thoroughly deserves the awards he is to receive," he said.

Mr Kelly will received the awards – a Testimonial on Vellum, signed by its president Princess Alexandra, and resuscitation certificate – at a glittering ceremony in London, at a date yet to be fixed.

Orton Mere has long been considered a dangerous spot. There have been a number of accidents there over the years – some where lives were lost.

Keith Williams (50) died after falling into the River Nene at Orton Mere on April 22, 2003.

In 1988, 17-year-old David Dines drowned as he tried to swim in the river.

And in 1970, brothers Frank and Stanley Bukowski died while canoeing in the river.